The frequency and volume of the noise slowly mounted until coming to a juddering standstill. Lying on a cushion at the point where the sound waves from four loudspeakers intersected, it felt as if the room (whose walls acted as extensions of the loudspeakers) was taking off like a rocket. This space of noise was built into the square gallery at Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart (WKV) – the venue for this show – by the audiophile artist Jan-Peter E.R. Sonntag. Anyone who spent long enough in this space understood (and felt) what Sonntag means when he emphasizes the links between noise and intoxication (in German, ‘Rauschen’ and ‘Rausch’, respectively, the former also being the show’s title).
Sonntag has an affinity for research, technology, science and theory and needs no second invitation to pick up a soldering iron, study an x-ray or apply Foucault’s archaeology of discourse to techno artefacts. On the contrary, this well-read fan of Friedrich Nietzsche and Friedrich Kittler has been exploring the overlapping fields of media art, technology, contemporary composition and epistemology since the 1980s.
The WKV has hosted Sonntag before, for a 2007 show called sonArc::project where he used mercury vapour lamps, water basins containing electric eels, standing sound waves and a Geiger counter to ‘search for the essence of electricity’, as he put it, to ‘deduce epistemes from materials’. Whereas visitors to that show could listen to the eels’ location signals transformed into sound waves, in Rauschen, Sonntag used copper wire wrapped around a stretcher frame to receive ELF (extremely low frequency) radio waves that were then sent as electromagnetic oscillations to a parabolic horn system. This in turn transformed them into sound waves to be reflected off the glass ceiling of the Kunstverein which acted as a resonator (Natural-Radio-Wave-Trap, 2011–15). The resulting sounds, the room bathed in the green light of a UV LED, were intended to recall the sounds interpreted by the Inuit as the voices of their ancestors during occurences of the Northern Lights. Even if this was not made explicit in the interconnection of mythology and technology, one might suspect that Sonntag was expanding Nietzsche’s theory of ‘immediate art-states of nature’ to include the immediate technology-states of nature – as a media artist, he is surely aware that even immediacy needs to be mediated.
In a darkened room, Sonntag’s interest in Fluxus and contemporary composition was made evident. Pacific Nocturne (2012–13) is an ‘audiovisual composition for two crickets, motorbikes on Sunset Boulevard, airplanes over the bay, the cinema organ at Villa Aurora in Pacific Palisades during and after sunset, and moving pictures of the big wheel in Pacific Park on Santa Monica pier’. This was followed by Raw Extension 012 (2012), a digital modification of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Studie II (1954), divided into mono sound, image and text. Like Natural-Radio-Wave-Trap, this piece combined the literalness of nature (crickets, sunrise), references to milestones in media, music and art history (Stockhausen, cinema, organ) and aesthetic-technical-media experimentation.
What might be called background noise was provided by a narrow room that came across as the artist’s studiolo, containing items including a photograph of Nietzsche’s typewriter, parts of Kittler’s self-assembled synthesizer, and a video of this device being dissected. The latter work is titled Apparatus Operandi 1 – Anatomie (2012) and is modelled on Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1632). Finally, an enlarged photograph of a mushroom emphasized once more what is at the heart of Sonntag’s practice: that the Dionysian impulse is not at odds with technology, knowledge and research.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell